Tonight CBS and NBC team up to give smut, which already had a bad name, an even worse one. The only pleasant surprise among four new network series premiering is that "Turnabout" is not foul play. The other shows are.
CBS introduces "The Dukes of Hazzard" tonight, and NBC unveils "Turnabout," "Hello, Larry" and "Sweepstakes." No one should cancel an important bowling date to catch any of them, but at least "Turnabout" delivers its innuendos with something approaching style, has a post- rather than pre-adolescent attitude toward sex, and inroduces a delightful and attractive new comic actress, Sharon Gless.
In the premiere of "Turnabout," at 9 on Channel 4, Gless as cosmetics executive Penny Alston and John Schuck as her sportswriter husband buy a fat little statue with a Paul Klein smile on its face not knowing the eyesore has magical properties. When at bedtime wifey tells hubby, "I would trade places with you any time," she doesn't know what she's getting into -- mainly, her husband's body.And he, when he awakes in the morning, finds himself in hers.
The premise -- from a Thorne Smith story that became a flop '40s film -- may not sound spectacularly tasteful, but it is used oleverly, in Steven Bochco's script, as the basis for funny and sound observations on differences and similarities between men and women and the way each perceives the other. Whether the joke can be sustained for weeks on end is debatable, but in the premiere the complications are amusing, tolerably cute, and virtually witty in sit-comterms.
Director Richard Crenna has given the show a pleasingly soft texture -- not the shrieking harshness so in vogue -- and this helps keep the concept from being merely grotesque. At the moment of transformation, the two sleeping spouses approximately alter their slumbering positions -- she sprawls out and he implodes in a self-cuddle. A later scene in which the couple spar and spat in a restaurant, and exchange what amounts to quadruple entendre, is heartily hilarious and should have been expanded.
Both actors have found subtle ways to parody the opposite sex and the opposite sex's view of the opposite sex: Schuck is wonderful sulking loudly, "You're being horried to me!" But Gless is the show's great asset.Like the supreme film comediennes of the '30s, she can be whacky and knockabout without sacrificing any feminine charm. She can even be mockingly macho without sacrificing feminine charms.
Those charms are charming, Gless is a gratifying find, and "Turnabout" is high sport.